The DOT (Department of Transport) has strict hours of service regulations for truck drivers. These are in place to ensure that truckers, motorists, and passengers on board heavy vehicles are safe.
Drivers subject to rules from the DOT and FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) must understand how they work, how to record hours worked, and exemptions. Likewise, fleet managers and operators must ensure that drivers abide by these rules at all times and that they never ask drivers to undertake work that would breach federal hours of service (HoS) rules.
Below we explain what DOT hours are, who needs to follow them, and how exceptions to the hours of service rules work. This is an essential guide for anyone working in the transportation industry. You should know we also have a full-length video-based training on Hours of Service that you should consider for your Team.
Table of Contents
How are DOT Hours Calculated?
DoT hours can be measured in 3 types:
- On-duty time
- Off-duty time
- Driving time
Let’s cover what these terms mean.
On-Duty Time, Driving Time, & Off-Duty Time
There’s an important difference between being on duty and driving. Drivers are considered on duty whenever they’re at work, whether behind the wheel or not. This includes non-driving tasks such as:
- Loading a truck
- Waiting for goods or passengers to arrive
- Meeting with management before a job
- All paid hours
The hours that truck drivers spend on duty are the hours used for calculations like the 70-hour 8-day rule and the 14-hour limit (see below for detailed information). Time behind the wheel is calculated separately and is used to measure when 30-minute breaks should be taken and how many hours a driver may spend behind the wheel during an on-duty period.
This is known as a driver’s duty status. A driver is considered off-duty when they are:
- Not working
- Taking a 10-hour rest break
- Taking a split break using a sleeper berth (this is only logged as off-duty time once both rest periods have been completed)
Short breaks count as being off-duty, but this time still counts towards the 14-hour rule. Only split breaks and 10+ hour periods off duty extend or refresh the 14-hour rule.
The driver and the fleet manager must understand that driving time is only a limited part of a driver’s full on-duty time. Sufficient time off-duty must be provided according to the hours worked rather than the time spent driving. Limitations on how long a truck driver can drive are there for the safety of the general public as well as the driver.
Logging Your Duty Status
Drivers must log their duty status frequently to abide by federal hours of service (HoS) rules. These must be recorded by fleet management, and records should always be available to drivers and safety inspectors.
The best way to record duty status is using an electronic logging device (ELD). These are mandatory for almost all commercial motor vehicle operators as described in §395.8 of the Code of Federal Regulations. There are a few exceptions where systems like paper logs may be used.
An electronic logging device allows operators and drivers to abide by HoS regulations while saving on paperwork. It also protects drivers from working illegal trucking hours because logging is automatic and more or less foolproof. This is a critical aspect of driver safety for truckers and other drivers nearby.
Who Needs to Follow DOT Hours of Service?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration considers any vehicle weighing more than 10,001lbs to be subject to HoS regulations. The carrier’s safety rating is determined by its gross vehicle weight rating – the manufacturer provides this.
There are slightly different rules depending on the vehicle’s load. We explain the difference below.
Note that throughout this guide, we’ll generally be covering property-carrying vehicles. We’ll point out differences in hours of service rules for passenger transport vehicles where appropriate.
Property-carrying drivers can operate a vehicle for, at most, 11 hours during a 14-hour window after coming on duty. A vehicle over the 10,001lb weight limit that carries only goods and no passengers qualifies as property-carrying.
Drivers must spend at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before they are allowed to drive again.
For passenger-carrying vehicles, the limit is slightly different. The duty cycle for passenger-carrying drivers is 15 hours, and drivers must only spend 8 consecutive hours off duty before they may drive again.
During the 15-hour window, a driver may spend a maximum of 10 hours behind the wheel.
Exceptions are also measured slightly differently for passenger-carrying vehicles – these will be noted as we cover each exemption.
The 14-Hour Limit
The 14-hour limit covers how long a driver is considered fit to drive after coming on duty. While a driver might keep working after this period, they may not be behind the wheel.
For instance, a driver might arrive back at their normal work reporting location 14 DoT hours of service after coming on duty and continue working to unload cargo, as long as this doesn’t require them to operate the vehicle.
The 14-hour period is refreshed after an off-duty period of at least 10 consecutive hours. This may also include a split break using a sleeper berth.
The 11-Hour Driving Limit
This is the maximum time a driver can operate a vehicle after coming on duty.
They may spend 11 of the 14 consecutive hours behind the wheel, so to utilize the maximum amount of driving time, the latest a driver’s driving time could start after coming on duty is 2.5 hours into their shift. This is because a 30-minute rest break must take place beyond eight consecutive hours behind the wheel.
The 60/70-Hour Limit
DoT hours of service are measured differently for fleets that don’t operate every day of the week.
If the fleet doesn’t operate for seven consecutive days, then HoS rules state that drivers are only fit to drive if they’ve been on duty for a maximum of 60 hours during any period of seven consecutive days.
Most fleets operate every day of the week. In this case, drivers may only get behind the wheel if they’ve been on duty for no more than 70 hours over eight consecutive days.
What Counts Towards the 70-Hour Period?
The 70-hour/8-day rule can be somewhat confusing. This is because the 70 hours are calculated using hours spent working (whether driving or not), but the regulation only affects whether an individual can drive. It doesn’t affect whether they can perform non-driving jobs.
70-Hour 8-Day Recap Example
Understanding the 70-hour rule is essential because it’s how drivers recap their time. Let’s take an example.
A driver has clocked 65 hours of work in their previous five duty tours, working Sunday-Sunday (this is the 8-day cycle). The previous Sunday, they worked 12 hours, 8 of which were spent driving.
We’re aiming to calculate how many hours they may spend working on the second Sunday – the 8th day.
The driving time last Sunday is irrelevant here. 8-day duty cycles are measured using the total time worked, not the time spent driving. The relevant numbers are:
The 65 hours worked in total: this means that the driver has only 5 hours left before they may not drive anymore.
The 12 hours of service the driver accrued last Sunday. This is how much time will be recaptured once it moves to Monday.
So on the second Sunday, the driver may drive during the first 5hrs of their shift, but no more. They may continue to do other work after the 5hrs is up.
Of course, if the driver works on the second Sunday, it affects how many driving hours they may put in the next day. A better idea could be to give the driver the Sunday off. This would mean either that:
The driver recaps 12hrs from the previous Sunday. This takes their 8-day rolling period from 65hrs down to 53hrs in total. The driver may now put in a full shift on Monday and maximize the time they can spend on the road.
The driver enjoys 34 consecutive hours off-duty. This refreshes their 8-day period to 0hrs, freeing them up for a new period of 8 consecutive days.
Why You Need to Do the Math
It sounds like a high school math problem, but it’s a math problem anyone in the trucking industry must understand to keep drivers safe and avoid civil and federal criminal penalties.
The hours of service rules are designed to prevent driver fatigue and keep motorists safe on the road. Fleet managers must understand and abide by the HoS rules. Understanding these laws also helps schedule operations more efficiently. It’s a problem worth solving!
Bad news – there’s more math to come. Let’s talk about the sleeper berth provision.
The Sleeper Berth Provision
Truck drivers can split their 10-hour rest period using a sleeper berth. Here’s how to do it.
How Do You Split a Sleeper Berth?
For property-carrying trucks, the provision may be used as follows:
- The driver must spend a minimum of 7hrs off-duty in a berth
- An additional period of at least 2hrs must be spent off-duty
- The periods must add up to at least 10hrs in total.
The rules have been modified recently – formerly, the period in the berth had to be at least eight consecutive hours. Now a 7/3 or 7.5/2.5 split is possible, but if the driver only spends 7hrs in the berth, the second period must be at least 3hrs.
These breaks don’t count towards the 14-hour total. This means that a driver could:
- Start work at 5 AM
- Start driving at 8 AM
- Take a 7-hour break in a berth at midday before using their remaining 7hrs of driving from 7 PM.
They would have to stop at 2 AM and take the remaining 3hrs off. This presents an effective way to deliver goods on time for interstate drivers.
What is an 8 and 2 Split?
The old HoS rules mandated that the period in the berth must be at least eight hours. This is still the case for passenger carriers – eight hours must be spent in a berth, while the remainder must be taken as usual.
The Short-Haul Exception
The short-haul exemption allows local drivers to log on and off duty hours without using electronic logging devices. Here’s what you need to know.
150-Mile Air Radius
The driver must operate within a 150-mile air radius of the same terminal they usually report to. Rather than using electronic logging devices, they may report their hours at their normal work reporting location upon completion (within 14hrs).
Duty Period for Short-Haul Drivers
While duty statuses are reported differently, the DOT hours of service regulations are otherwise the same for short-haul drivers.
What are the Hours of Service for a Local Truck Driver?
As long-haul truckers drive more, their breaks need to be logged in real-time. This reduces the risk of forgetting exact times or unscrupulous employers demanding excessive driving times.
Hours of service rules for the short-haul exception are the same as for long-haul truckers. The only difference is how the time is logged.
Adverse Driving Conditions
The adverse driving condition exception grants an additional period of up to two hours in difficult conditions. This 2hr period doesn’t count towards either the 11-hour driving limit or the 14-hour duty limit.
What Counts as Adverse Conditions?
The adverse driving conditions exception includes:
- Heavy rain
- High winds
- Unexpected heavy traffic
“Unexpected” is key regarding traffic. If a driver or fleet operator could reasonably have predicted traffic, this doesn’t count towards the 14hrs before a driver must take ten consecutive hours off duty.
Dealing with Adverse Driving Conditions
In extreme cases, conditions may mean that the 2-hour extension isn’t enough to reach a natural stopping point. In severe adverse driving conditions, drivers should pull over to the side of the road to rest rather than extend the duty period beyond 16hrs.
The 2-hour extension also applies to personal conveyance vehicles and passenger carriers.
The 8-Hour Rule — Hours Truck Drivers Can Drive
Commercial motor vehicle drivers may stay on the road for a maximum of 8hrs before they must take a 30-minute break.
How Does the 8-Hour Rule Work?
More driving eventually leads to a lapse in concentration. This can cause accidents. Therefore, drivers are required to stop every 8hrs and take at least 30 minutes away from the wheel.
What is a 30-Minute Break for Truck Drivers?
Mandatory rest breaks may count as an on or off-duty period. They can be spent anywhere as long as the driver isn’t operating the vehicle.
When Should Drivers Take a Break?
While 8hrs is the maximum, it’s recommended that drivers take breaks when experiencing discomfort or loss of concentration. Taking a break 3hrs into a shift to regain focus may seem premature, but the driver can still continue for 8hrs after this, meaning no time has been lost.
Safety should always be the priority. Remember that your goods won’t get delivered on time if the driver is involved in a crash due to negligence. HOS regulations protect truckers and their fellow motorists – taking a break can save lives.
Enforcement of DOT Hours of Services Rules
The United States Department of Transport and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration take enforcement of these rules very seriously and will assess fines and potential criminal penalties for lawbreakers. Failure to comply with DOT hours of service rules can lead to penalties from a federal or state institution.
If a driver causes an accident while violating HoS rules, they could be punished in a federal criminal court. The fleet operator may also incur criminal penalties if they’re found to have been using negligent practices to monitor hours of service.
Local law enforcement officials may also levy civil penalties if drivers are found in breach of the HoS rules. These may include fines of well over $10,000.
Operators must protect themselves and their drivers by using an ELD to log duty statuses. Going over the limit, even by just a couple of minutes, can get you in trouble.
If a driver is pulled over by local authorities (e.g., for careless driving) and can’t present evidence that they’ve taken the required breaks and are working within legal hours, they won’t get off with a warning. They could face significant fines and even lose their license.
What are the Two Most Common Hours of Service Violations?
Both the most common violations are related to driving beyond permitted hours. They are:
Driving past the 11-hour limit. No more than 11hrs may be spent driving during the 14hrs after your last off-duty period. Drivers exceeding this limit could face penalties.
Driving past the 14-hour limit. A driver might spend 3hrs working but not driving. They then spend 11hrs driving and take the mandatory 30-minute break. This is a violation! The last 30 minutes of driving have exceeded the 14-hour limit since starting work.
Following HoS Rules and Service Regulations: Summary
Some key points to sum up:
- Hours of service are measured from when a driver begins work – not when they start driving.
- A driver may spend no more than 11hrs driving within 14hrs of starting work.
- Drivers must take at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before driving again.
- Berths give you a huge advantage for longer trips.
- Using an ELD protects drivers and fleet operators from criminal and civil penalties.
- Giving your drivers 34hrs away from work refreshes their 8-day cycle – use this to your advantage and theirs!
HOS regulations are there to protect everybody. Learn them well and drive safely! We hope these hours of service rules have helped clarify this sometimes confusing set of rules and regulations.